Mersey Gateway receives government approval
The bid to build a new crossing over the River Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn has moved a massive step closer after Transport Secretary Alistair Darling approved Government funding of £209m for the scheme.
The Mersey Gateway has now been entered into a programme of major transport schemes, which will allow Halton Borough Council to take forward detailed design work and to seek statutory powers for its implementation.
This will hopefully pave the way for construction on the bridge to start within the next couple of years, with an opening date of 2014, or even sooner, now a reality.
Halton council, which had led the private/public partnership seeking to build the bridge, has described the announcement as a “momentous day” for the whole of the North West region.
The decision has also been met with widespread approval from other private and public sector organisations in the region.
Tony McDermott, Leader of Halton Borough Council, said: “This is a momentous day for Halton Borough Council and for the whole of the North West region. It is certainly the biggest event in Halton for many a number of years.
“We have campaigned long and hard for over ten years for this day and I would like to pay tribute to all our partners, MPs, the public, private and business sector and neighbouring local authorities for their support throughout the campaign
“The Mersey Gateway is our bridge to prosperity and Halton?s highway to the future, and work will not stop until we deliver this spectacular piece of urban architecture on the ground.”
Roy Morris, Chairman of The Mersey Partnership, said: “This is fantastic news. A new Mersey Gateway bridge is of massive strategic importance to the performance and expansion of the North West economy, with its significance reaching far beyond Widnes and Runcorn.
“Cutting journey times and improving accessibility will be invaluable to a wide spectrum of businesses, and the partnership between the public and private sectors has proved to be a key factor in convincing the Government of these economic benefits.”
Steven Broomhead, Chief Executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency said: “We are delighted with the announcement. The Mersey Gateway will have a major impact on the economic growth and competitiveness of Merseyside, Cheshire and the whole region.”
Stephen Pearse, transport expert at Liverpool Chamber of Commerce, said: “This is a very positive, important decision. The crossing joins up the region and will have a massive impact on South Liverpool.”
Councillor Ron Round, Leader of Knowsley Council, said: “The impact the Mersey Gateway it will have on Knowsley and the rest of the region cannot be underestimated.
“It will bring new opportunities for business, the economy and development, and will encourage even more investment into the area. This crossing is something the region has needed for a long time, and the North West will start to reap the benefits immediately.”
Liverpool John Lennon Airport will be one of the main business beneficiaries of the crossing and has been a major supporter of the campaign. The bridge will provide a vital road link to it and extend the catchment area of its passengers.
Robin Tudor, from Liverpool John Lennon Airport, said: “We are a big supporter of this and it is an important factor in our continued success.”
The impact of the new crossing does not just affect businesses and commuters.
Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Cheshire Constabulary, has been a keen supporter of the second crossing campaign, which he believes will help police respond to emergencies.
He said: “This is excellent news. The local government strike showed how vital this crossing is. I have always had concerns when it comes to emergency planning for the region in the event of a major incident. This will give us more options.”
The Department for Transport has agreed a grant of £86m that will be used to acquire land and to carry out the decontamination work, whilst PFI credits of £123m will be used to fund performance-related annual payments to the developer to supplement the toll revenue collected.
The offer of funding is subject to a number of conditions, including a requirement that the council works with the relevant statutory bodies in assessing and, if required, tackling the potential environmental impacts of the scheme, as well as ensuring the scheme remains good value for money.
A great number of environmental and technical studies have already been carried out over the last couple of years and most recently, the council was able to send the Government letters from the Environment Agency and English Nature, both of which accept that the environmental impact of the new crossing on the River Mersey and surrounding area would be minimal.
Halton Borough Council will now draw up the necessary orders and applications to cover all the procedural issues, including planning permission.
There will almost certainly be a public inquiry into the new crossing before the Secretary of State for Transport can give final approval. Bids are also now being invited from the private sector to build and operate the new bridge.